Albums are being released with less notice, and in some cases, no notice at all. We dive in to the trend and dissect why this might be happening.
The trend of surprise albums has definitely caused a shift in the traditional method of releasing music. Interviews, music videos and singles are still protocol (well, usually), but we’ve watched the likes of Jay Z, Beyonce, Kanye West, Skrillex, J. Cole etc. trade customary release dates for something a little more exciting and spontaneous.
One of the first instances of this was Radiohead’s 2011 album King of Limbs. They announced the album five days before it was released, and released it a day early still. The method of release was subject of much attention and debate, even overshadowing the music itself to an extent. Singer Thom Yorke would use this method again when he released his solo album earlier this year.
Jay Z sprung a big one on us, too. On June 16th of last year, Hov announced that his new album, Magna Carta Holy Grailwas going to be released on July 4th. The stunt doubled as some sort of lame marketing tool for Samsung, only ‘allowing’ the first one million users of an app to download it. The album was released via retail a few days later and outsold Watch The Throne when comparing sales in the first four weeks. Only by 10,000 records, however, as it sold 797,000 records in the first month.
Beyonce did the same thing five months later, and since then Skrillex, Kanye West, Justin Timberlake and Kid Cudi have followed suit in some form or another.
We have to believe this is happening for a number of reasons. For starters, artists are bored of the traditional methods. As Beyonce said, "I didn't want to release my music the way I've done it. I am bored with that. I feel like I am able to speak directly to my fans.”
Another contributing factor could very well be that most artists don’t like doing interviews. The last thing they want to do is wake up at 8 am to get to a morning show so they can get asked a series of questions they’ve been asked a dozen times already. It’s no fun. This is the type of publicity that usually goes in to a pre-album campaign, and frankly, it just isn’t extraordinarily entertaining for the artist.
A similar reason is that artists do this for the fans. It’s much more exhilarating to receive new music from your favorite artist if you didn’t know it was coming. Beyonce went on to say in the same interview, “There's so much that gets between the music, the artist and the fans. I felt like I didn't want anybody to give the message when my record is coming out. I just want this to come out when it's ready and from me to my fans."
Releasing an album as a surprise is also a surefire way to dodge leaks. All too often an album leaks weeks and even months before its release date, either accidentally or purposefully. This is the last thing an artist wants, but fans are usually too eager to care, especially in 2014. They want they’re music and they want it now! Leaks can be terrible quality, sometimes with unfinished songs, omitted songs, shortened songs, etc. They are never good for business, and an album won’t leak if nobody has it or knows about it.
It’s also a guaranteed way to avoid dreaded pushbacks, something that is constantly plaguing the hip-hop world. Imagine if Dr. Dre just released Detox tomorrow? That would be awesome. Generally pushbacks act to deflate interest in casual fans, but heighten the expectations of super-fans, leaving everyone either disinterested or dissatisfied.
One way this trend is gaining popularity is by the increasingly blurred lines between mixtapes and albums. ASAP Ferg just released his newest mixtape Ferg Forever with little notice, and the thing plays out like an album of new material if you’re asking me. Recording quality material is becoming much easier and albums are being purchased less, so naturally the lines are blurring.
The decline in record labels is a massive reason that this is happening as well. Many artists have their own label or imprint that they can release stuff on, so waiting for Warner to decide when to release your work isn’t really a thing. Album sales, generally, are down, and so the attitude seems to be along the lines of “f**k it.” As long as people get to hear the music, that’s what matters.
There’s no doubt that the surprise element leads to more record sales. Beyonce’s surprise albums sold nearly twice as many as her previous effort, making it the best example of this method working. J. Cole's 2014 Forest Hills Drive, which he announced with little advance notice, and released no singles prior, has sales projections that are looking like they'll be the strongest for a rap album yet in 2014. If he had done a more methodical roll out it's very possible Cole wouldn't have quite as much anticipation for the album. Kid Cudi’s surprise album, Satellite Flight, however, didn’t boost the sales past his previous effort, so it isn’t a foolproof method just yet. However, it does seem to be the way of the future in our fast-moving society.
Everything is quick in this day and age, so why shouldn’t album releases be quick too? As a fan, do you prefer this method of release? Or do you prefer traditional release dates and lengthy roll outs? We’d love to hear your comments below.